One of the most interesting moments of the Paul Pierce number retirement ceremony Sunday came when the Boston Celtics legend addressed Kevin Garnett.
“Kevin, where would I be without you, man?” Pierce said. “Me and Kevin talk every week. We come to the house, and he says his only regret is not coming (to Boston) five years earlier.”
It’s a fascinating what-if. Surely, had Garnett landed on Causeway Street earlier in his career, in the middle of his prime, there would be absolutely zero debate as to whether his No. 5 should be retired alongside No. 34 in the TD Garden rafters.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, it didn’t work out that way. Garnett didn’t get to Boston until 2007, and he only spent six seasons in Celtic green. That’s not long enough to warrant number retirement, some argue.
“Without a doubt, KG’s number will be (the next one) retired in Boston,” Pierce said, via ESPN.com. “It’s going to happen.”
He’s right. The Celtics should retire Garnett’s number, and he should be looked at as one of the most impactful players in franchise history, even if he spent just six years in the Hub. It’s not like you need minimum amount of service in Boston to have your number retired.
Ed Macauley’s number is retired. He spent six seasons in Boston, too. He didn’t win a title. And no disrespect to the Hall of Famer, but arguably the best thing he did for the Celtics was getting traded to the St. Louis Hawks as part of a package to acquire the rights to Bill Russell.
Dennis Johnson “only” played seven seasons with Boston, and obviously was an important piece to two titles, but he certainly didn’t tip the scales the way Garnett did.
And really, who cares if he was only here for six seasons? In today’s NBA, that’s an eternity. The game has evolved, and these sorts of criteria should, too. Garnett played six elite campaigns with the Celtics. They won a ton of basketball games. They won a title in 2008, and if Kendrick Perkins stayed healthy, they probably would have won again in 2010. Garnett was a five-time All-Star with the Celtics. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and was named to the All-Defensive first team three times.
You also can’t talk about Garnett’s impact in Boston without mentioning buzz terms like “he changed the culture” and “he instilled a winning attitude.” Those sorts of things are a bit overplayed but also shouldn’t be discounted.
Perhaps just as importantly, Garnett helped save Pierce’s legacy. The Celtics were a dumpster fire before acquiring Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007. Pierce’s patience was running thin.
“It was discouraging playing so well and not reaching the team success that I wanted to reach,” Pierce told The Vertical’s Chris Mannix two years ago. “Because at the end of the day, that’s how you’re going to be measured on how your team does more than what you do as an individual. When I didn’t see that, the results of that, it created doubts where maybe I could go somewhere else and find that.”
Pierce expected to be traded after the Celtics failed to win the draft lottery. He wanted to go to Dallas.
It’s unlikely Sunday’s ceremony ever happens without Garnett (and yes, Allen, too). If Pierce is traded following the 2007 season, he leaves after eight very good seasons and no title. That changes his legacy a lot.
“Very few players can affect an organization like Kevin did here in Boston, both on and off the court,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said when Garnett retired. “He led our team by example every day with his drive, his passion, and his relentless commitment to winning. While always putting team ahead of individual, Kevin earned his place among the greatest players in Celtic and NBA history.”
And eventually, the Celtics should pay Garnett the ultimate tribute.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images